In the next month, we'll observe the following:
• the inauguration of the first non-white President of the United States
• the anniversary of the 80th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
• the 100th anniversary of the NAACP
A potent time to reflect on race in America, to be sure. But in considering these landmarks, what do we really understand about how racism continues to function in our society?
Jane Elliott has been conducting diversity exercises for over 40 years, initially with the children in her classroom in the 1960s and more recently in corporate sensitivity workshops around the globe. Her approach is a controversial turning-of-the-tables where the light skinned, blue eyed participants are put in the position of the oppressed for an afternoon to understand the corrosive effects of discrimination firsthand. The film about Elliott's work, Blue Eyed demonstrates how hate speech, lowered expectations and dismissive behavior can have devastating effects on minority achievement. Elliott contends that "A person who has been raised and socialized in America has been conditioned to be a racist... We live in two countries, one black and one white." In the course of her workshop, she discusses not only racism but also sexism and homophobia.
On Tuesday, January 13th, we'll be showing the condensed 50-minute version of the film followed by a community discussion on racism led by Anne Sibley O'Brien, an author, illustrator and performer who has done extensive work in diversity training. The event is free and open to the public, thanks to a generous grant from the Maine Arts Commission and co-presented with the Portland branch of the NAACP as part of their 2009 MLK Observance.
Jane Elliott is a powerful force to watch in action and it's doubtful you'll leave a viewing of Blue Eyed unchanged. We encourage you to consider coming to this event as a way of honoring this landmark period in our country's racial history and as a social investment in it's future.
Follow this link to view a clip from Blue Eyed.